Today, the MTA, along with T-Mobile and AT&T, introduced wireless service for your mobile devices at six Manhattan subway stations. Not only will you be able to text, email, tweet, and chatter, but you'll have easier access to 911, and dispatchers will be able to tell when a call is being placed at street level or underground, adding a new level of security. "I think it's brilliant," said a woman as she hurried onto a downtown A train at 14th Street. "So convenient and it will make the subway safer too." Well, it's convenient and safer if your carrier is AT&T or T-Mobile. Verizon customers will have to wait for the train with only their thoughts for company.
Similar service has been available in San Francisco since 2006 and in Boston since 2007, but with 1.6 billion riders each year, the New York City subway system is one of the most heavily trafficked in the world. Asked about possible terrorism threats posed by cell phone service, Transit Wireless CEO William Bayne demurred, saying, "That is a question I would direct to the NYPD." Notably, cell phones were used to detonate bombs that decimated public transit systems in Madrid in 2004 and London in 2006.
Most straphangers we spoke with were enthusiastic about the fact that soon they will never have to disconnect. "I just can't believe it wasn't done sooner," said one commuter. "How hard could it be? We can get service everywhere. You can get the Internet on an airplane now. It just makes sense to have it in the subway." On the other hand, photographer Joshua Bright wasn't buying the idea that we deserve to have wireless underground. "Just wait and see. The second everyone hears about this new technology, they'll switch from appreciation and awe to entitlement."
New Yorkers can now enjoy wireless service at the following stations:
- A, C, E at 14th Street
- L at Eighth Avenue
- C, E at 23rd Street
- 1, 2, 3 at 14th Street
- F, M at 14th Street
- L at Sixth Avenue
Over the next year, thirty more stations—most on the west side—will be outfitted with Remote Fiber Nodes, including major hubs like Herald Square, Times Square, and Columbus Circle. The full build-out of the network at 271 stations is expected to take about four years at a cost of $100-200 million, with a company called Transit Wireless footing the bill with the carriers .
Eager to try out the new technological advance, we placed a call from the field to Gothamist HQ:
HQ: Wow, are you calling from the station?
Field: I'm walking down to the actual platform!
HQ: Narrate every step!
Field: Halfway there!
HQ: Any hotties?
HQ: Listen up, historians, history is being made!
Field: Most people are getting full service. ... Can you hear me? The C train is coming in right now! I've got full bars.
HQ: Wow, the C train arrived promptly? This really is history!
HQ: I wish we had anything important to say.
Field: I'll think about it and call you back.
HQ: One small call for man, one giant leap for obnoxious assholes of all kinds?
Expect to hear a lot of similarly stimulating conversations at high volume over the next few months. As Henry David Thoreau once said, "We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate." Of course, Thoreau didn't have Twitter!